By Laura Lynott
The Seagull is a story most can relate to – one of yearning for a love that will never be yours – but where most walk away with a heavy heart, the character at the centre of this beautifully dark Checkhov play cannot so easily.
The Gaiety Theatre play centres around the relationships of a troubled playwright, her mother, a conceited middle-aged actress, her lover, a novelist and a young wannabe actress whom the playwright finds she has an unrequited love for.
This complex script by one of literature’s greats has been modernised with great success by the Corn Exchange and shows Checkhov’s Constantin as a rather forlorn and angry young woman, Constance – who is living in the shadow of her mother’s overwhelming ego.
In this performance we see how far Ireland has come with gay rights, considering this classic tale has been adapted to feature a lesbian love affair gone wrong between Constance (Jane McGrath) and the wonderful Nina (Genevieve Hulme-Beaman).
And we also witness echoes of the continuing fight for women’s rights in Ireland with the destruction caused by a controlling relationship led by the older writer, Trigorin (Rory Keenan) who cheats on his partner, the self-indulgent actress, Arkadina (Derbhle Crotty).
The neurotic Trigorin seems to toy with Nina – and helps to create an unsettling love triangle between Arkadina, Nina and Constance – who constantly pines for her former lover.
Tragically the audience watches as a young woman, so full of hope, is ruined by patriarchal dominance when the once beautiful Nina appears later in the play haggard and bereft after losing him, her dream of being an actress and most regretfully of all, her baby, while she is forced to watch Trigorin return to his former lover unscathed.
And the chain is not quite complete there, as we learn of Masha’s (Imogen Doel) love for Constance – but in a situation so typical of a Catholic Ireland we are today distancing ourselves from, Masha feels forced to break this chain by punishing herself and marrying a man who adores her, but whom she does not feel any emotional connection to.
The play also tackles tough subjects that are both contemporary and very familiar to Ireland, including family ties and breakdowns, depression and distasteful remnants of the Celtic Tiger and an adoration of wealth and beauty.
There is also a nod to a cultural dysfunction of pretending troubles are not unfurling when the car crash has already taken place.
The Seagull is a truly dark play that, thanks to the fantastic mastery of Checkov, 100 years ago and a clever adaption by Michael West and Annie Ryan, today, should be highly praised.
It manages to make an audience laugh heartily and feel deep loss for loves that could have been and the final tragic ending is best left to be seen.
If you go to see just one play by the end of this year, make it this one and enjoy a truly modern take on a classic – with a sultry rock performance even thrown in half way by the impressive all rounder, Jane McGrath.
The Seagull is showing at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival until Sunday, October 16. Tickets are between €15 and €45.